In the post below, we assess the differences between our software, and our peer Zooniverse, another popular crowdsourcing transcription platform. Both platforms have supported text transcription for over a decade. FromThePage was designed specifically for text transcription, while Zooniverse has its origins in image sorting tasks and decision-tree tasks. The ways in which volunteers interact with materials and with one another on these platforms are very different. Zooniverse volunteers typically undertake tasks on their own, and multiple people perform each task. Their responses are then aggregated together.
FromThePage volunteers transcribe pages and their work is visible immediately. Other volunteers and/or institutional staff can then edit these transcriptions. Built-in version history reveals changes to any given transcription. The underlying mechanisms for transcription are therefore very different. This blog post is intended to highlight the differences between these two rapidly developing platforms and help you determine projects. Which one best suits your transcription needs?
(Note: Both platforms are under constant development; this post reflects the state of the software in early 2022.)
FromThePage is a smaller platform than Zooniverse, but has a robust group of dedicated transcribers, with an average of 57 pages transcribed per hour, and 352 total contributions (reviews, edits, notes) per hour. The volunteers on FromThePage are history- and genealogy-minded, while the Zooniverse volunteer base grew out of citizen science projects. Both platforms have more volunteers than material, so you can expect most projects to be enthusiastically transcribed.
Outreach is also built into FromThePage. FromThePage provides a very personalized experience for project owners, and the FromThePage team will email their volunteer base to promote your project and put new volunteer eyes on it. You can also bring your own volunteers to FromThePage. For example, if your museum or library already has a robust volunteer base, they can sign up and start transcribing your projects. (This can be especially important for local volunteers with mobility or transportation challenges.)
Transcribers on FromThePage have the ability to navigate and transcribe the things that interest them, the platform supports transcriber freedom. As such, many of your project’s volunteers may be experts in the work they are helping you transcribe, bringing the experience they’ve gained on similar projects.
Zooniverse is really, really big. They have a huge base of transcribers to work on projects — according to their site, they have more than one million transcribers. This can be great for new projects, since it can let project partners skip some volunteer outreach, although project staff should monitor the Talk forums. Volunteers joining from other projects may need extra guidance, as they may be used to very different tasks, material, and project expectations. Zooniverse started as a task-based classification platform in the sciences, identifying telescopic photographs of galaxies by shape. As transcription has become a more popular and necessary task, Zooniverse has modified their platform to support tasks like transcription of correspondence and manuscripts, gaining more interest in the cultural heritage field.
FromThePage supports both public and private crowdsourcing options. If your project includes material that isn’t open to the public, or if your project is for internal staff, you can configure your project to only be accessible by a certain group of people.
As in FromThePage, private projects can be configured in Zooniverse to only give access to a particular group of people.
FromThePage provides exports in many different formats for many different uses: PDF and Microsoft Word for individual reading; plain text for full text search and metadata fields, TEI-XML for scholarly editions, spreadsheets for metadata or field-based projects. You can download individual documents or an entire collection at once, or you can write a program against our API that pulls transcripts automatically.
Zooniverse started as a platform for astronomy research, and their focus is on data. Data in Zooniverse can be downloaded in a variety of csv files that include different values related to your project. These are large and complex files,so you might need to have a programmer -- or at least some major data chops -- to sort through the data dump of discrete contributions over multiple passes of each page. Recently, the Zooniverse team has developed the ALICE tool to help manage transcription data, which might help in this process.
The goal of FromThePage is to integrate seamlessly with your existing workflows. FromThePage supports ingesting material via IIIF from a variety of DAMS. FromThePage ingests from Internet Archive and CONTENTdm, including (optionally) OCR data from each.
FromThePage can push transcriptions back into CONTENTdm, while project teams have built scripts to import transcripts into Omeka-S, the Internet Archive, and other digital library and publication systems via a full-featured API. The FromThePage team is interested in building more round trip integrations with library systems. If there’s an integration not currently offered by FromThePage that would benefit your project, let us know.
While Zooniverse is beginning to support ingesting material via IIIF, most projects upload image files with CSVs of metadata called manifests. (Further documentation for the Project Builder is located here.) Zooniverse has some experimental features that exist on certain projects. To use these, you can contact Zooniverse.
Respecting Volunteer Time:
Both Zooniverse and FromThePage teams follow the philosophy that you should respect and not waste volunteer effort and time. Think hard about whether you are going to use the results of what you’re asking volunteers to do. FromThePage asks volunteers to either transcribe what they see on a page (using line returns to indicate line and paragraph breaks) or to enter data into fields they can tab between. Not having to switch between the mouse and the keyboard keeps volunteers in “flow” and speeds their work along.
Zooniverse offers a multiple-keying workflow, requiring two or more volunteer transcriptions of every line or field, followed by reconciliation by project owners post-crowdsourcing. FromThePage focuses on collaborative features where volunteers ask for help on hard transcriptions with an optional review step that can be completed by staff or volunteers.
Zooniverse transcription projects ask volunteers to draw boxes around lines or words and then transcribe them in a pop-up box. Zooniverse’s projects that include materials like letters and correspondence usually ask volunteers to draw lines under each line of text on the image of a letter, then transcribe each line into an individual box, as you can see below in the Corresponding with Quakers project below on Zooniverse. Consider whether bounding boxes are unnecessary, absolutely essential, or a “nice to have” feature when choosing platforms.
FromThePage supports deep work and immersion through a carefully constructed interface that allows users to control their experience and work environment. Users can zoom in or out, and rotate materials. This allows transcribers to focus on the detailed work of transcribing.The transcription window sits to the right of the facsimile image, and can be repositioned to better support transcriber flow.
In addition, FromThePage users can add comments on the page level to open up a conversation about challenging transcription, something interesting they saw, or a question they have.
Zooniverse, as mentioned earlier, focuses more on short tasks, stemming from its roots in scientific-based projects that ask volunteers to determine if, for example, a certain natural phenomenon is present in an image. This can be very effective for some projects, but if your project is more complex, text-based work that isn’t necessarily consistent throughout, FromThePage could be a better option.
The Zooniverse Talk message boards provide a space for volunteers to discuss interesting findings or difficult tasks, and can foster collaboration that goes well beyond a project’s specific crowdsourcing task.
On FromThePage, volunteers can search for projects using keywords, or can go directly to a project at an institution they already volunteer for. Within a project, volunteers can decide exactly which page they would like to work on.
Volunteers can locate active projects by browsing via keyword or project name. There’s not as much autonomy about which page a user chooses to work on, as projects proceed in an order. This approach makes project completion more predictable and focuses volunteers on finishing tasks rather than cherry-picking interesting or easy items to work on.
Sustainability & Extensibility:
Many features in FromThePage are funded by the institutions using it. For example, custom features like field based transcription, spreadsheet transcription, metadata creation, and the reviewer project dashboard were funded by a collective of state archives via the Council of State Archivists. TEI tagging in the advanced editor was funded by the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Civil War Governors of Kentucky Digital Edition. Support for new TEI tags–like footnotes–were built on that foundation through funding by the Frederick Douglass Papers..
The FromThePage team is able to provide quick turnaround time on small features that are funded by institutions. Our development process is lightweight, fast, and streamlined. In some cases we can have a new mini enhancement deployed within a month of the client requesting it.
Zooniverse collaborates on applying for grants to extend their platform with research partners. Many platform features (including textual transcription) begin through collaboration with specific project partners and are tried out within that context before being incorporated into the Project Builder platform. This deliberate pace ensures that new features are carefully tested and studied before becoming generally available.
Both platforms are open-source, so project-funded enhancements benefit the entire crowdsourcing community. Zooniverse usually needs a grant to fund features, but does say on their site to contact them to deploy or inquire about experimental features.
FromThePage is text-centered, so its projects focus on archival documents and text-based crowdsourcing tasks like transcription, translation, metadata creation. It supports some interpretative tasks like spreadsheet transcription of historic ledgers or metadata creation for documents, items, and photographs, but these tasks are still text-based.
Zooniverse provides a much wider range of task types; true to its origins in natural sciences, it supports image-based tasks like drawing and measurement. It also supports multi-stage workflows in which, for example, the response to a multiple choice question about an image may determine the next task a volunteer is presented with. Most Zooniverse tasks support on-image drawing, which is not currently available in FromThePage.
Orientation and Mission:
FromThePage exists as library and archives infrastructure. While it can be used very successfully by individual researchers, its data integrations and management tools are designed for long term relationships with libraries and to fit seamlessly with their existing technologies. Our goal is to be able to be a valuable and efficient part of the library workflow.
Zooniverse is primarily a platform for scientific research. It allows scientists and scholars to launch research projects based on digitized objects, with minimal support from their own institutions. Its broad range of supported task types and support for non-textual tasks make it attractive for projects outside of libraries and archives. In addition, its large pool of existing volunteers means that researchers do not need the pre-existing relationships with volunteers which cultural heritage institutions often have.
FromThePage emphasizes usability of data. Projects can have several different levels and types of review, based on the balance of volunteer time and staff time. Depending on quality needs and project labor availability, projects may choose from very low levels of quality review to staff review of each contribution. Transcriptions are always available in a usable format, regardless of review status.
Zooniverse emphasizes rigor of data. Blind double (or more) keying of the same data by several different volunteers should reduce bias or sloppy mistakes by individual volunteers.
Some projects have reported trouble consolidating multiply keyed textual data into usable, final formats. (Recently, Zooniverse has produced the ALICE tool to help address this issue.)
FromThePage pricing is based on usage, both in terms of distinct projects and number of page images, and this tends to follow organization size. You can read more about FromThePage’s pricing structure in the chart below or on our website’s pricing page. All FromThePage users are offered a free one month trial to see if our product is right for you! Click here to start a free trial. Not sure what project you need? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone can build a Zooniverse project free of charge using their DIY project builder. Zooniverse is funded through grants and institutional support. Publishing your project to the Zooniverse volunteer community requires review and approval by Zooniverse staff to ensure project quality and compliance with platform guidelines.
In conclusion, both FromThePage and Zooniverse are powerful software tools with varied strengths and features for facilitating the transcription of your materials. It’s exciting to have two such valuable tools available for transcription projects—especially at a time when it’s no secret that there’s not enough focus on software for research or libraries, nor so much funding, while there’s plenty of problems needing solving and material needing to be transcribed. We believe there’s room for both transcription platforms to thrive and succeed. Depending on the needs of your institution, team, and project, these platforms can allow you to complete transcriptions and meet your project goals. Interested in trying FromThePage? Feel free to contact us at support@FromThePage.com, and head over to FromThePage to sign up for a free 200 page trial.